I was introduced to minimalism in a sentence. But that sentence was quickly followed by a question.
On a Saturday afternoon, after spending many hours cleaning my garage while my 5-year old son kept asking me to play catch in the backyard, I began complaining to my neighbor about the project and the time it had taken to clean my garage.
She responded with a sentence, “Yeah, that’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need all this stuff.”
I looked over at the pile of dirty, dusty possessions in my driveway. As I did, in the corner of my eye, I saw my son swinging alone in the back yard—where he’d been all morning. Suddenly, I realized something important:
My possessions were not bringing joy into my life, they were actually distracting me from it.
I was struck in that moment with a burning question that I had never asked myself before, “What could my life look like if I didn’t own so much stuff?”
My entire life (growing up middle class in the middle of America) I had been told, “Make more, buy more, enjoy life more.”
But in that moment, everything changed. The truths that I believed to be true about life were replaced with an entirely new question, “What would happen if I owned less?”
The answer was not hard to imagine: If I owned less stuff, I’d have more money, more time, and more energy for the things that matter most.
The existence of an entirely new worldview was discovered… by asking myself a question I’d never thought to ask.
I have found, along my path to becoming minimalist, that learning to ask new questions is a powerful and effective strategy to owning less—almost essential. And that many of the obstacles to minimalism can be overcome by learning to ask different questions.
Instead of asking: “What if I throw out something I need later?”
Ask: “What if I keep a whole bunch of stuff I never end up using?”
Suddenly, you begin to see your hard decisions in a new light. Living your whole life with a house full of stuff you don’t use adds stress and anxiety and robs someone else of the opportunity to use it. There are negatives to holding on to things “just in case” we need them. But we rarely think of the negative consequences because we never ask the question.
Learning to ask a new question helps us overcome this obstacle to minimalist living.
The strategy can be tried in countless scenarios.
Here are some more:
Instead of “What if I lose friends because I choose a minimalist life?”
Ask “If my friends stop hanging out with me because I no longer buy the same things they do, are they really my friends in the first place?”
If you need nice things to impress your friends, they probably aren’t worth impressing anyway.
Instead of “Will I regret not making this purchase today?”
Ask: “What could I do with the money instead?”
Because there is a good chance you could find more happiness and meaning not buying the thing you don’t need.
Instead of “What if so-and-so gets mad because I got rid of the gift they bought me?”
Ask “Would my friend want me to keep around something I don’t need just because they gave it to me as a gift?
If you gave a gift to a friend and found out they no longer wanted it, would you want them to keep it just because you bought it? Probably not. Most people don’t give gifts to be a burden. Like you, most people would be upset that you kept something you didn’t want just because they gave it to you.
Instead of “What if my kids get jealous because they don’t have as much stuff as the neighborhood kids?”
Ask “What life lessons are my kids learning if I buy them every toy they want?”
I’ll never regret the life lessons my kids have learned while we pursued minimalism. They have learned that you don’t overcome envy by giving into it. And they have learned to find contentment and happiness with what they have.
Instead of “What if I get bored owning less?”
Ask “What might I be able to accomplish if possessions were not weighing me down?”
Rather than assuming you will be bored, trust in yourself and all you can accomplish. You’ll never know how far you can fly until you loosen the weight holding you down.
Instead of taking no steps because “What am I going to do with my partner’s stuff?”
Ask “Which of my own stuff can I minimize first?”
You may be surprised how much of a difference you can make in your home by focusing on just your own stuff.
Instead of “How am I ever going to minimize _________?”
Ask “Have I seen owning less benefit my life? Well then, how am I going to apply the principles here?”
You see, you don’t need to have all the answers before you get started. Where there is a will there is a way. And it’s true. If you’ve seen the benefits of owning less in other areas of your life, you’ll be able to find a workable solution for your book collection, paper piles, or yarn stash.
Instead of “What am I removing from my life?” Ask “What am I adding?”
And rather than wondering “What if I fail?” Consider “What if I succeed?”
The next time you feel stuck, test out this little strategy. Try thinking through the problem from the other side and discover a brand new question to ask. You may be surprised how it changes your outlook.
Gloria I. Rizzo. says
Hi, I love this article, it is GOD sent to me, as I was a shopaholic, after a traumatic experience, I kept on buying just because I was and still under heavy depression from all the stuff, and not know what to do with it. I need an army of people to help me unclutter my apt, but they charge over $30.00 an hour I can’t afford to pay anything. So GOD has been directing me what to do slowly but surely, I will purge extra stuff from my apt. I have to take it one step at a time, due to a CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE. I also have lack of motivation, I am a big procrastinator, which it does not help the situation. I have to declutter before GOD calls me home, I do not want to leave this heavy burden to my children or anyone. Please keep me in prayer, that GOD will give me health, strength, motivation, energy to keep doing the purging. Please keep this message private, as I know they are too many haters out there, and they love to hurt people, instead of helping them, I have that happened to me as I tried to ask for help. So it is between JESUS and I. GOD Bless.
Thank you. AMEN. !!! I welcome any suggestions. !!!
Kodey WhiteWolf says
Really liked about worrying about yourself / just do your own minimizing ….maybe your partner will follow
Maria – Those are fabulous stuffs, thank you very much, I will keep in mind and add them on. Keep the good health as long as you possibly can. After long weeks seeing my scale stuck to a plateau, I got a good surprise when looking at my scale this morning and see a new number. This only motivates me more to stay on course. Eating and be vegan? Not so much so. I just think adding veggies and drink lots of water with your meals are very good for anyone. So that basically what has helped me in the change along with some stretch before getting up and strength. Also I have been stuffing on some new recipes from the Mediterranean diet that I love and some few wrapping around recipes that motivate me to keep up with my goals. I am intrigued about those books on vegan life that you mention. Surely worth for the saving.
Maria Pinto says
Glad to hear this Marsha. I have had many cookbooks over the years & having been paring them down with other things. A good resource as well is your local library if you want to get some good recipe ideas without buying any books. Then of course there is the internet with so much information and good recipes, many with cooking video demos to guide you along your journey. Plus it is fun to watch other people cook & get some new tips and great ideas.
Maria Pinto says
Yes I am on a total vegan diet, vegetarian since the early 70’s then vegan on and off since 2006. My problem is although I eat plant based foods I still love to snack, but baking simple desserts is so easy and you can regulate how much/or little sugar goes into it.
It is right when they say it is harder to lose weight as you get older.
Also check out John & Ocean Robbins website the Food Revolution Network. For any of you who are not aware of who John Robbins is, he was heir to the Baskin and Robbins fortune but when he saw how bad dairy was for one’s health he turned it down and began to write books and lecture on a plant based diet.
I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at The San Francisco World Vegetarian Day in 2006. I also heard Howard Lyman (The Mad Cowboy) speak and that really got me on the path to veganism.
Joshua, I read your essay again. When my kids saw friends with huge toys, Barbie houses, Star Wars playsets or the like, I would suggest we make them out of a cardboard box. The men or dolls could be a gift or something they could save for. Now, my grandsons have papier mache pinatas home made at their birthdays. They had a castle made out of two cartons. My kids had to volunteer and give charity and my grandsons do the same. My daughters in law were raised the same way. As parents, we look for friends with similar values. We have different skills but we can all contribute something. My son joined the Navy to help pay for college. If kids have no discipline, any military service is not an option.
Ronel Bosch says
I needed this encouraging blog post today (03.09.2020). Couldn’t decide if I want to study further….
I’m definately going to!
Thank you SO MUCH.
We have small heating and a/c bills because we live in a small space. Better for the environment and us. I do origami and use cardboard, scrap paper and junk to make decorations and jewelry. I made displays and taught crafts at a local museum.
I am thankful becoming a minimalist even the small steps bring taken so far. There are four shopping bags full of clothes taken out of two closets that I will take out of this room tomorrow and deliver to one of two places. The emails becoming a minimalist are encouraging and motivating to keep moving forward with this undertaking until my “stuff” is to a minimum instead of a maximum. What a lesson to learn of not being sentimental living my life keeping, yes, every high school yearbook and too many things that are not useful and are making my life way too full of material things. Thank you for helping change my life for the good. I’m going to grab a few sweatshirts and fill another bag! God bless you for helping others who needed it.
Suzy Bradley says
I LOVED these questions because they are ones I ask myself all the time about my desire to live a more minimal lifestyle. For example, I thought I was the only one worried about “losing friends” by not imitating their purchasing behavior. And I never thought about gifts in that way – I have felt a little hurt from time to time if I saw that friends weren’t using/keeping a gift, but I certainly wouldn’t want them to keep it if they didn’t want it! I need to refer to these questions every time I think I need something new!
I thought it was your neighbor’s daughter that was the minimalist?